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New Kosovar PM Needs 'Full Support' Of EU, U.S. Before Reaching Deal With Serbia


Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti was speaking in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Balkan Service.

PRISTINA -- Newly elected Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti says the European Union and the United States have complementary roles in helping the country meet its top priority: successful dialogue with Serbia.

Hoti told RFE/RL's Balkan Service in an exclusive interview on June 11 that Kosovo is ready for talks with Serbia, has a clear platform and strategy, and expects them to be resumed "very fast."

"We need the full support of the EU as well as a strong U.S. engagement in this process -- both in reaching and implementing an agreement [with Serbia]," Hoti said, adding, "one doesn’t go without the other."

Hoti, a leading official in Kosovo's center-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), became prime minister on June 3 after winning a vote in parliament by a razor-thin margin.

Former Prime Minister Albin Kurti (file photo)
Former Prime Minister Albin Kurti (file photo)

His election ended a months-long crisis triggered by outgoing premier Albin Kurti's Vetevendosje party, which had been pressing for snap polls after his government collapsed in March following a no-confidence vote initiated by LDK.

A key point of contention with LDK was Kurti's policy in relation to Serbia.

Kurti was reluctant to scrap trade sanctions against Serbia in spite of EU criticism and requests from Pristina's most important ally, the United States.

Three days after taking office, Hoti's government lifted the sanctions on Serbian goods entering the country in an effort to pave the way to resuming dialogue to improve ties with its neighbor.

"We have just taken over our duties and now are waiting for the process to be clarified in the coming days," Hoti said.

Strained Relations

The European Union started mediation between Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, and Belgrade in 2011 amid strained relations that had lingered since a 1998-1999 war between the two that ended only after NATO intervened.

The conflict claimed more than 10,000 lives and left more than 1 million people homeless.

Kosovo's independence, declared in 2008, has not been recognized by Belgrade, Russia, and five EU nations. The United States and more than 110 other countries have recognized Kosovo’s independence.

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci
Kosovar President Hashim Thaci

Vetevendosje has accused both the United States and Kosovar President Hashim Thaci of working in tandem to remove Kurti from power in order to push through a deal with Serbia. Both Washington and Thaci deny the accusations.

"Germany and France, two key EU members, are paying a great deal of attention to the dialogue process, and it is also of interest that Washington is very focused on putting an end once and for all to open issues between Kosovo and Serbia," Hoti said.

On June 10, Hoti outlined his government's platform for dialogue with Serbia, according to which Kosovo will not negotiate its territorial integrity and the constitutional organization of the state.

Furthermore, the final agreement, which Kosovo insists should result in reciprocal recognition, will have to be in the spirit of Kosovo’s constitution.

"I do not have a mandate to discuss the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo -- this is clear," Hoti told RFE/RL.

Asked which compromises Kosovo was ready to make in the dialogue with Serbia, Hoti said that the "the compromise Kosovo is [making] is accepting to sit at the table with a goal of normalizing relations with its neighbor."

"That is the compromise we are making. All compromises ended on February 17, 2008 [when Kosovo declared its independence], with the [UN Special Envoy to Kosovo Martti] Ahtisaari Plan based on which Kosovo declared independence with constitutional arrangements in force today," Hoti said.

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